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We Called Him Tortoise Because He Taught Us

At the used book store in the Milwaukee Airport in 1988, I made my mom buy me a book called “Winning Through Intimidation” mainly because, as a little kid, I liked the illustrations and was drawn to the cool looking turtle on the front cover.

I kept this book under my pillow(along with about 8 other books) and used to read it before falling asleep. I have no idea how much I was able to actually comprehend. Despite it’s title, this book is actually about how to avoid being intimidated, not just by people, but by life itself. With it’s cynical world view, and humorous anecdotes, the principles are timeless and can be applied to almost any situation. I revisited this book recently while in the bathtub and found that I had unknowingly(subconsciously) adopted many of the methods and attitudes promoted in this book(page 7 for example:)

Theory of Sustenance of a Positive Attitude Through the Assumption of a Negative Result

a. Prepare yourself for long-term success by being prepared for short-term failure
b. A person shouldn’t enter a sales situation feeling he can’t make the sale, but he should realistically assume that he won’t make the sale. If you’re prepared, then you’re able to feel confident that you are capable of making the sale if it is possible to be made. Hope for the best, but realistically assume the worst.
c. No matter how well prepared you are, only a small percentage of deals actually close, because there are an endless number of factors beyond your control.
d. Each negative result is an educational experience from which you can extract lessons learned, and then forget about the negative result.

How many times have I gone into a romantic situation enthusiastically while at the same time knowing it was likely to be a complete fucking disaster?(see the entry below this one.) I’m pretty sure it’s been every time, for a long time.

“Winning Through Intimidation” came out in 1973, and was remarkably a self-published book which became a #1 best seller. The Author, Robert Ringer, is still around, http://www.robertringer.com. I’ve always been obsessed with both rabbits and turtles. Indeed, my moniker on the internet was “rabbit” in the early days of the internet(after the main character in John Updike’s novel Rabbit, Run which has always been a personal favorite.) The white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland was my favorite character as well. Yet, truth be told I identify more with the tortoise. In fact one of my ex girlfriends used to refer to me as a turtle, mainly due to how slow I was to commit and allow the relationship to progress. Though I might also argue that my incredible patience with her and protective shell to deflect her blows were the real turtle-like qualities. Friends I have had in the music and art world have never understood why I released things so cheaply and never followed the so called natural steps to achieve fame, fortune and notoriety. “How will you ever become popular if you don’t play live.” “Don’t you want to tour and get a record deal?” You have to do this. You have to do that to make it, Brandon.” All they thought about was the short term, concerned with doing whatever they could to get ahead quickly. When I started recording music in the late 90′s, I may have lived under some of those illusions, but I was looking 20 or 30 years ahead. My goal was to release as many works and small projects as I could, with an eye on what their cumulative effect would be as opposed to their individual immediate impact(which I had no illusions about.) Just put something out, any way you can, don’t push it too hard or give a rats ass what anyone thinks, and move on to the next project. Each is just a piece of some gigantic narcissistic puzzle of my life. Is it the best way to create things and live? I can’t really say I know for sure. It is this tortoise’s way though.

Robert Ringer adopted The Tortoise as his alter ego in his first book, because so many of the anecdotes in that autobiographical work were reminiscent of the legendary tortoise-and-hare tale. The Tortoise is the unglamorous plodder who always seems to find a way to come out ahead, no matter how harshly life treats him along the way. He isn’t flashy or impressive; his strengths are consistency, perseverance, resiliency, and resourcefulness. He’s the kind of reptile who, upon being told that he can’t play in someone’s game, simply goes out and starts his own league.

The Tortoise is the quintessential antihero, reflected in such characters as Ben Braddock (played by Dustin Hoffman), the shy, stuttering boyfriend in The Graduate; or Colombo, the fumbling, stumbling detective played by Peter Falk in the old TV series of the same name, slow when it came to figuring things out, but always catching the villain in the end; or Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) in the Rocky film series, the late starter who overcame all odds to become world heavyweight champion.

The Tortoise is the ultimate icon of perseverance, the reptile who demonstrates that the outcome of most situations in life are decided over the long term. His motto succinctly sums up his view of the world:

Quickly getting out of the starting blocks may get people’s attention, but all that counts is where you are when the race is over.

“Maybe I’ll be seeing you around the jungle sometime.”

As a side note, given that this book came out in 1973, there are some hilarious parts in “boy-girl theory and “better deal theory” sections relating to how a woman can sell herself as a potential wife to a man(and vice versa.) Now after all these years I finally recognize where my views on relationships as business partnerships originated. It was as a prepubescent boy at the airport in 1988, picking up a copy of “Winning Through Intimidation.” The butterfly effect, anyone?


Brandon Adamson is the author of “Beatnik Fascism

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